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Music

Best DVDs for Gifts

No matter how obscure or freaky the taste of your gift recipients, PopMatters has a wealth of one-of-a-kind DVD ideas.

POPMATTERS 2005 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
Best DVDs for Gifts

No matter how obscure or freaky the taste of your gift recipients, PopMatters has a wealth of one-of-a-kind DVD ideas.

by POPMATTERS STAFF

ROCK DOCUMENTARIES

Dig! (Palm Pictures)
If Some Kind of Monster is the result of universal acclaim causing interpersonal friction, then Dig! is the endgame when CD sales don't quite match perceived self-worth. Ondi Timoner's tale of the friendly ego rivalry between friends Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe, and their respective groups the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is a fable to failed dreams and commerciality gone corrupt. As Courtney and the Dandys find major label acceptance, Newcombe shifts from joyful to jealous to junkie. He breaks down onstage, attacks his audience, and goes on extended recording jags under the influence of heroin, and his own smoldering arrogance. The DVD offers up chances for commentary and clarity, but the truth is that, sometimes, talent turns traitor and undermines even the most committed efforts for success.
-- Bill Gibron

Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways (Image)
Some saw them as the female equivalent of the Ramones. Others found them talentless tarts being paraded out in skimpy slut clothes for the sake of adolescent males' hormonal horniness. But make no mistake about it, the Runaways were a band that wanted to rock � it's just that a lot of ancillary issues (most out of their control) got in the way of the riffing. Former band member and filmmaker Vicki Blue has delivered a devastatingly personal overview of the group's formation, fame and eventual floundering. Even without the participation of Joan Jett (angry over the handling of the group's catalog) the documentary released on DVD by Image Entertainment is devastating. Harrowing, heartbreaking, and often hilarious, this is one rarified look at sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll from a fiery feminine perspective.
-- Bill Gibron

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (Rhino)
The Ramones were Gods of the New York punk scene. They rose up from the slums of suburbia to rewrite the rulebook on meshing melody into mayhem to form the perfect pop anthem. Who knew then that these idiosyncratic icons were so angry, so odd...and so sad. The "Bruddahs from the Boroughs" shtick was just a way to keep the miserable truth from coming out. With three of the four founding members now dead, Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's eye-opening expose becomes both eulogy and elegy. We learn that the band members basically hated one another, couldn't accept their lack of success, and eventually kept touring out of craven desire for that elusive recognition. The DVD release expands on the film, providing 30 minutes of must-see interview footage that paints an even more pathetic picture
-- Bill Gibron

Made in Sheffield (Plexifilm)
Believe it or not, the most confrontational and experimental music on the scene in the late '70s and early '80s was not punk. It wasn't even centered in London. In a quiet factory town in Northern England, a group of musicians decided to ditch the guitar, drop the drum kit, and pick up synths as a way to channel their raging adolescent angst. Referencing Kraftwerk over the Stooges and the MC5, these true nonconformists proved that rock had other places to go besides backwards. This excellent DVD offers a wealth of added material, as well as lost concert performances that prove just how different and defining this new sound was. Though the film stops right before new wave turned the movement more toward pop, anyone interested in the rise of electronica will find their forefathers in this intriguing documentary.
-- Bill Gibron

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Paramount)
Fame is a frightening, flummoxing thing, especially if you are the biggest hard rock band on the planet. Some groups just pour on the excess and go with the pyrotechnical flow. Metallica, on the other hand, fired its popular bassist, fractured while trying to record a new album, and saw one of the founding members head off into rehab, threatening an end to the multi-platinum mega-act. They eventually hire a therapist to try and get to the bottom of the band's breach. Filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger were around to capture the creative chaos. Originally signed on for a basic EPK, the documentarians ended up as passive witnesses to a huge heavy metal meltdown, and the reformation of one of music's most tenacious acts. The DVD collects it all, and some amazing extra features, on a stellar presentation.
-- Bill Gibron

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Paramount)
With time taming some of his unqualified legend, it was necessary for someone to step up and remind popular culture of the impact of Robert Zimmerman. Thankfully, that person was American cinematic auteur Martin Scorsese and the result is the resplendent No Direction Home. An achievement in archival artistry as well as narrative drive, Scorsese's blistering documentary delivers what so few in Dylan revisionism fail to take into account � context. Dylan's music wasn't just the political and social voice of a flowering generation; it was the next logical step in the folk song tradition. As a singer-songwriter, none can broach Dylan's impact and immediacy. As a film, especially in this wonderful DVD package loaded with classic performances from the past, Scorsese has delivered one of the best musician biographies ever.

Punk: Attitude (Capital Entertainment)
Anyone attempting to explain the foundation of the mid-'70s punk movement definitely has their DIY work cut out for them. But former DJ-turned-director Don Letts was there, and his is a vision built on experience, not historical hindsight. Gathering together a virtual who's-who and getting them to open up about their inspirations and their passions provides untold intrigue and insight (the DVD from Capital Entertainment offers additional Q&As). With focus on both the UK and USA scene, and how they eventually merged and then migrated, Letts confirms what few remember today. Punk wasn't just about three chords and speed. It wasn't centered on style or social upheaval. Punk was first and foremost a philosophy, an approach to the world and how you lived in it, not a certain hairstyle or random ridiculous piercings.
-- Bill Gibron

MUSIC/PERFORMANCE DVDS

The Bellrays, At the Barfly (Punkervision)
There's two guaranteed ways to liven up this year's festive Christmas parties: Spike the eggnog with 80-proof rum and fire up the BellRays' new DVD. An hour-long, fuel-injected revival meeting, the live show captures the band at its best in an intimate club setting. All the elements of greatness are here: jarring power chords, smoldering vocals, gallons of sweat, and a killer set list. Lisa Kekaula is as dynamic a vocalist as there has been in decades, and her bandmates masterfully carry her along on a wave of down 'n' dirty aggression. They're sneering punk, they're jacked-up rock, they're soulful R&B... but most of all, the BellRays are the high energy cure for what ails ya.
-- Adam Williams

Director's Label Series Boxed Set Vol. 2: The Work of Directors Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek, and Stephane Sednaoui (Palm Pictures)
Two years ago, many a music and film geek's wishes were granted when the Palm Directors Label series was launched, offering definitive anthologies of three of the most noteworthy music video directors today: Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham. In 2005, the latest installment inducts four more craftsmen into this unofficial music video pantheon, all four of whom have brought their own distinct style to the art form, providing us with some of the most indelible pop culture images from the last two decades. The videos by the witty and imaginative Jonathan Glazer are unforgettable, highlighted by the harrowing "Rabbit in Your Headlights" (U.N.K.L.E.) and the award-winning, highly surreal clip for Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity". Anton Corbijn combines a keen photographer's eye with a strong surrealist influence on such videos as Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" and U2's "One", while Stephane Sednaoui uses his photographic skills to bring out the pure, raw energy of such cuts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away" and Björk's "Big Time Sensuality". Mark Romanek's DVD is the most mainstream of the bunch, but no less influential, proven by such unforgettable videos as Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and his masterwork, Johnny Cash's "Hurt". All four DVDs come with tons of extra features, including documentary profiles of the filmmakers, as well as commentaries by the various musicians. Avant-garde, enthralling, and packed to the gills with good music and even better images, this set is a must for anyone who appreciates the music video as a legitimate art form, and not just a shallow promotional tool.
-- Adrien Begrand

Jimi Hendrix, Live at Woodstock (Experience Hendrix)
Debate will forever rage as to the defining moment of Jimi Hendrix's amazingly brief career. Monterey's burning of the midday Strat ranks alongside the live New Year's Eve version of "Machine Gun" at the Fillmore East, but can either compare to the historical significance of Hendrix's performance at Woodstock? Taking the stage for an early morning set, and backed by a ragtag quintet of musical gypsies, Hendrix put a face and sound to an entire demographic: the Woodstock Nation. The twin DVD set preserves Hendrix's festival-closing appearance from various camera angles, and captures Hendrix in personal and professional transition. Viewers see an artist shedding the baggage of the past, while exploring new creative paths. A fascinating case study in Hendrix's meteoric rise to pop cultural icon status, Live at Woodstock may not be the most perfect set ever played, but it is arguably Hendrix's most important. And let's not forget that the entire August '69 gathering can be summed up in three words (courtesy of James Marshall Hendrix):Star Spangled Banner...
-- Adam Williams

The Residents, The Residents Play Wormwood (The Cryptic Corp.)
Here's a classic combination � the Holy Bible and San Francisco avant-garde gremlins the Residents. Back in 1998, the Eyeball guys released their musical interpretation of the Good Book's more "curious" stories and called it Wormwood. Controversial and craven, the album was a triumph. Now we have a chance to see the sensational live show (from a 1999 Germany stopover) that went along with the critically acclaimed performance piece. For a group mostly known for the innovative and arcane use of the studio, their stage act is filled with impressive visuals and unique sonic sequences. Seeing songs like "Burn Baby Burn" and "Mister Misery" "acted out" on stage makes for a compelling companion piece to album, and you haven't lived until you've heard the Rez gang belt out their own twisted version of "Gimme That Old Time Religion."
-- Bill Gibron

Baaba Maal, Senegal (Universal/Palm World Voices)
Palm World Voices have gone to great lengths to bring Baaba Maal and his music to the world with this CD and DVD box set, which includes a 40-minute documentary on the singer's life and career, as well as National Geographic maps of Africa and Senegal, and various informative pieces on the African Diaspora, traditional African instruments, on Islam, Podor, and the Empires of West Africa. The maps feature photos of African people in fields, by rivers, working and playing. A 48-page booklet is also included, with more information and an interview with Baaba. Baaba Maal: Senegal is a trip to another world with Baaba leading the way through music, dance, and spirituality.
-- Nikki Tranter

TELEVISION ON DVD

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Complete First Season (Universal)
He was the master of suspense. He was one of the true visionaries working in modern cinema. He practically invented the thriller as we know it. And from 1955 to 1962, Alfred Hitchcock "presented" a weekly excursion into dread and terror that rivaled both The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits in imagination and style. Though the Hollywood heavyweight only directed 17 installments of the series (four of his efforts are featured on this DVD presentation of the first season), his signature stamp is all over this show � those darkly comic and clever opening and closing bits the director starred in. Indeed, unlike Zone or Limits, Hitchcock's focus was reality, not the supernatural or science fiction. The fast, efficient method of working here inspired Hitchcock to make arguably his best-known film � 1961's Psycho. What other TV series can boast that pedigree?
-- Bill Gibron

Himalaya with Michael Palin (Warner Home Video)
As he did with his other filmed expeditions, ex-Python Palin decides to ride the largest mountain range in the world, and it is a spectacular, inspiring journey. Beginning at the Kyber Pass in Pakistan and winding his way through India, Nepal, Tibet, China, and Bhutan, finally ending at the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, this is much more than a famous face involved in a neat and tidy travelogue. Through his interaction with locals and the inherent religious, social, political and cultural issues involved, Palin proves as much an explorer of civilization as countryside. So achingly beautiful that it literally steals your breath, so epic in its statement about the nature of the world that it trumps untold volumes on the subject, this is without a doubt the best series of this sort Palin has ever done. Even his original Phileas Fogg act cannot match Himalaya's humbling humanity.
-- Bill Gibron

Footballer's Wive$: The Complete First Season (Capital Entertainment)
Somewhere right before the arrival of those "Desperate" dolls over on ABC, American television had almost completely forgotten how sleazy and fun a nighttime soap opera could be. Thank God the British still enjoy braving these tried and tainted episodic waters, as the result is one of the cheekiest, choicest schools for scandal ever to soil the small screen. This purported look at a star-studded sports team (soccer for you myopic Yanks) pushes buttons, busts taboos and flaunts its illicit invitations with more squalid sensationalism than a stripper wearing a copy of the National Enquirer as a thong. There's enough battery, backstabbing, and bed-hopping to put the episode of the standard sudser to shame. Thanks to the UK's far more lax censorship standards, there is enough bare ass male beefcake and blue-streak laced language to make even the most seasoned nighttime drama aficionado blush.
-- Bill Gibron

The Kingdom: Series 1 (Koch Vision)
Stephen King respected it so much he used it as the basis for one of his few forays into episodic television. For years, fans from other regions have gloated over the availability of this surreal supernatural series on the digital medium. Even people who aren't particularly fond of director Lars Van Trier have to admit that it is one incredibly bizarre and entertaining experience. Centering on a haunted hospital and the crazy cast of characters who work and visit there, The Kingdom (finally on Region 1 DVD) is both darkly comic and genuinely creepy. It's then filtered through Van Trier's arch aesthetic. The result is a series that is memorable both for its atmosphere and mood as well as the way it deconstructs the formulaic standards of the typical spook show. Series 2 can't arrive soon enough.
-- Bill Gibron

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Universal)
It's been name-checked by Chris "X-Files" Carter and Hellboy's Guillermo Del Toro. It was based on two of the most successful made-for-TV films ever aired on TV. Now fans and curious newcomers have a chance to experience the ORIGINAL Carl Kolchak in all his Darren McGavin-inspired bad suit sensationalism. Sure, the supernatural element swung wilding from creepy to corny in the single season of 20 shows, but there were some incredibly memorable macabre moments (featuring zombies, Jack the Ripper and a headless biker) scattered in among the misfires. Centering it all was McGavin who singlehandedly kept the series from sinking with his dead-on portrayal of a skeptical veteran reporter awash in an unseen world of sinister paranormal forces. Though it's relatively tame by modern standards, this is one retro treat that deserves to be rediscovered on DVD.
-- Bill Gibron

Lost: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
Sure, it's an obvious pick. Yes, it's the newest mainstream network obsession. Of course, it is setting itself up to be either the greatest series of all time, or the biggest disappointment since Twin Peaks. Yet there is no denying the power of Lost, both as a cultural phenomenon and as an exercise in long form narrative configuration. This intriguing tale of plane crash castaways on a mystery and menacing island has enough unanswered questions, intriguing characters, and barely hinted-at backstory to pack untold volumes of complex plot lore. Yet as each installment of the show unfolds (an experience expanded and enhanced by this DVD release) the series continuously develops its possibilities (as well as its potential pitfalls). It's been a while since a TV series caused this much speculation and courted this much expectation.
-- Bill Gibron

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume 7 & 8 (Rhino)
Though purists balk at the premise of disrespect that this timeless comedy show exhibits toward supposed "classics" (???) there is no denying the compendium of wit contained in a single episode of MST3K. In the two volumes released by Rhino this year, (number seven appeared in March, while eight hit stores in November) we were treated to perplexing peplum (a trio of hack Hercules films), pissed off puppets (Hobgoblins) the saga of some irritated, irradiated rodents (Killer Shrews) and the worst science fiction film ever to soil a drive-in screen (Monster a Go-Go). Naturally, these Z-grade examples of cinema would be unendurable without the in-theater riffing provided by Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, and their accompanying robot pals. Indeed, the series entire set up (a man trapped in space, forced to watch bad movies) plays like an insane version of one of the no-budget specials being spoofed by the group.
-- Bill Gibron

The Partridge Family: The Complete Season 1 and Season 2 (Columbia Tri-Star)
Come on, get happy... and get these complete season sets of one of the sunniest, funniest shows of the early '70s. Replete with bubblegum pop so sensationally saccharine that the DVD case should come with a warning label (Season 1 arrived earlier this year, while Season 2 has just arrived in stores) and storylines equally sugary, this was how the networks defined hip post-the peace and love decade. The flawless performances by Oscar winner Shirley Jones, the disgruntled Dave Madden, the impish Danny Bonaduce (who steals EVERY scene he is in), and the tenuous teen idol-as-idiot David Cassidy make for a clockwork farce that effortlessly balances fantasy, freshness, and slightly square family values. Classic episodes include the Partridge's playing for a ghetto block party (thrown by Louis Gossett, Jr. and Richard Pryor, no less) and the entire clan getting sprayed by a skunk. Now, that's comedy.
-- Bill Gibron

OUTSIDER/UNUSUAL DVD TITLES

Aftermath/Genesis (Unearthed)
Can necrophilia and death obsessions be artistic � perhaps, even emotionally devastating? They can be if they derive from the audacious lens of Spanish filmmaker Ignacio "Nacho" Cerdà. On this uncompromising DVD from Unearthed Films, the director presents his "death" trilogy (the first short, entitled The Awakening is minor at best) a shocking � and spiritual � exploration of how we deal with death. In Aftermath, a coroner commits a disgusting act with a corpse as a symbolic slap at the Grim Reaper. In Genesis, a sculptor laments the loss of his lover, and recreates her in clay. As his bereavement grows, the soil becomes flesh. This may all sound like some seedy, glamorized gorefest, but Cerdà avoids geekshow exploitation by digging beneath the surface of Death. What he has to say makes for haunting, harrowing cinema.
-- Bill Gibron

Long Weekend (Synapse Films)
A lost classic of Australian cinema, this anxiety filled thriller about a couple in marital free-fall is the unlikeliest of "man vs. nature" films. Instead of delivering monster members of the wilderness club, writer Everett De Roche and director Colin Eggleston create a real sense of suspense and visible unease as the elements conspire against our unhappy campers. Synapse Films preserves the movie's amazing visual canvas, one that turns the tranquil seashore of a sunny Down Under oasis into a menacing mirage of evil beauty. As much a manifesto as a standard shocker, humanity is clearly the villain here, exploiting and raping the planet's spoiled and soiled resources. As they pillage and plunder, we grow hungrier and hungrier for some manner of karmic revenge. Our filmmakers, along with some four footed and feathered friends, deliver in delightful denouement spades.
-- Bill Gibron

Make Your Own Damn Movie (Troma)
Want to test your own motion picture mantle, but don't know quite where to begin? Well, let the loveable Lloyd Kaufman, corporate crackpot of those Titans of Trash, Troma, show you how. This five-disc DVD presentation (you can even purchase the special edition that includes a copy of Kaufman's hilarious book by the same name) runs the gamut from instructional to indecipherable. Still, there is sound cinematic advice buried in all the bizarre B-moviemaking. Much of the material is derived from other bonus features, but the new interviews with the likes of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, John G. Avildsen, Eli Roth, James Gunn, and Larry Cohen are very insightful. You even get a chance to see � and hear Lloyd lacerate � one of his first films, the laughable The Battle for Love's Return.
-- Bill Gibron

The Manson Family (Dark Skies Films/MPI)
A brilliant '70s horror/exploitation recreation, or a sick and twisted take on the entire Tate/La Bianca crime? You be the judge of Jim Van Bebber's brave, befuddling, and brilliant film on the Manson Man and his famous clan. In reimagining the events that signaled the Summer of Love's end, Van Bebber wallows in the sex, drugs, and dementia of the story. MPI's two-disc DVD takes us deeper into the production, illustrating Van Bebber's battle to see the movie made, and the years of personal anguish involved. Though this occasionally feels like some kind of lost Helter Skelter snuff film, Van Bebber's desire to tell the truth delivers a startling comment on our media's obsession with crime. It also has acute insight into the depraved nature of those who killed for one incredibly mad man.
-- Bill Gibron

Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (Fangoria International/Media Blasters)
What do you get when you cross a few Brazilian friends, a couple of camcorders and a fanboy love of all things horror? The answer is the four-years-in-the-making masterpiece Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone. In the sequel to Plaga Zombie (included as part of Media Blasters' fantastic two-disc DVD set), directors Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez have crafted an apocalyptic living dead movie so manic, so in love with the genre it is redefining that it's like watching Peter Jackson's private personal videos, or Sam Raimi's first forays into the Evil Dead domain. As much about friendship as frights, and featuring an amazing sequence where ex-wrestler character John West shows off his collection of personal memorabilia (including a hysterical "theme song"), this is much more than a horror film. It's a celebration of all that is cinema.
-- Bill Gibron

Reflections of Evil (Go Fart Films)
Damon Packard is some manner of cracked genius. Who else could concoct a surreal cinematic self-portrait that channels that '70s staple The ABC Movie of the Week, an unhealthy obsession for Steven Spielberg, and a deranged dose of the Universal Studios tour? This semi-autobiographical tale revolves around the obese auteur and his incredibly antisocial interactions with the rest of the world. While dealing with the disappearance of his sister, Packard makes his living as a street watch salesman. Constantly seeming on the verge of an imminent breakdown, he is all Tourette's-inspired cursing and confusion. The Go-Kart Films DVD cuts out 30 minutes of original footage, and removes much of the musical scoring (stupid licensing issues). Still, this is as close to absolutely insanity as one can experience without checking into the local asylum.
-- Bill Gibron

Slim Susie (Home Vision Entertainment)
Hollywood has been dishing out the Tarantino-esque crime comedies for so long that it's about time someone showed us how it's really done � or at least, how to really steal, cinematically. Slim Susie may seem odd at first glance, but Swedish director Ulf Malmros is such a student of the post-modern motion picture experience that his kinetic, crackerjack comedy plays like a greatest hits collection of memorable American auteurs. Between homages to Pulp Fiction, Scarface, and The Usual Suspects, we get the innocent story of a brother searching for his missing sister. When things turn sinister, and then slapstick, Malmros keeps everything tight and on the decidedly dark side of the humor spectrum. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD presentation includes a telling Behind the Scenes documentary, which proposes that film, not music, may be the new universal language.
-- Bill Gibron

ASIAN HORROR/SUSPENSE DVDS

Kairo (Universal Laser and Video Company)
What if the world ended, not with a bang or a religious standoff, but via a slow, steady decay? What if your friends and family just stopped being, disintegrating to dust? Though it positions itself as a typical ghost story, Kairo quickly dumps the macabre to delve into areas much more meaningful. A young man comes across a webpage promising interaction with spirits. Elsewhere, a nursery worker wonders where her co-workers have gone. When the two sides meet up, they learn that the fate of humanity rests on how much one wants to survive � and if they're willing to fight for it. Though currently only available from Region Three retailers, this is definitely a film worth seeking out. It manages to avoid the rampant clichés in most Asian horror to actually address the philosophical meaning of existence...or the lack thereof.
-- Bill Gibron

Koma (Tartan Asian Extreme)
Illegal organ harvesting (you know the urban legend) is given a suspense thriller makeover in director Chi-Leung Law's exercise in Hitchcockian hi-jinx. Like Hand that Rocks the Cradle with more unlawful human vivisection, this slightly off-kilter film (now available on DVD) never truly lives up to the gratuitous promise of its sensational set-up. As the body part bandit continues to carve up his victims, rivals Chi Ching and Suen Ling spar and vie for the affections of a humorless man named Wie. Ching suffers from renal failure, while Ling is unhinged by the terminal illness of her mother. As plot points intertwine and tighten, we get ready for a rock 'em, sock 'em showdown between the gals. Instead, Law delivers a more demented take on the concept of jealousy and payback.
-- Bill Gibron

Memento Mori (Tartan Asian Extreme)
So successful that it sparked the entire Ghost School series, Whispering Corridors announced Korea as a viable competitor in the Asian horror arena. Though it doesn't follow the events from the first movie, Memento Mori also uses a girls' school setting, and an angry alienated phantom girl to tell its story. Directors Kyu-Dong Min and Tae-Yong Kim are out to tell a conventional tale of forbidden lesbian love in a very unconventional manner. Following the framework of the intricate, intriguing diary at the center of the film, this is less an exercise in traditional horror and more a look at how harassment and a lack of understanding quashes even that most fragile of intimate feelings. The DVD is first class, enhancing the stunning camera work and production design of these first time filmmakers.
-- Bill Gibron

Oldboy (Tartan Asian Extreme)
It begins as a minor mystery. After spending a few hours at the local police station, a drunk Oh Dae-su makes one final phone call, and then literally vanishes. Fast forward 15 years, and a just released Oh Dae-su must learn who imprisoned him, and why. Thus we enter the startling, surreal universe of director Park Chan-wook. Oldboy (available on Region 1 DVD) wowed them at Cannes, winning the Grand Jury Prize, and with good reason � this is one sensational slice of subversive storytelling. As the title character, actor Choi Min-sik resonates so much raw power and vengeful force that it vibrates across the screen. Yet he also exposes a great deal of unrequited pain and loss. Filmed in a manner that seems to amplify the plot's inherent kinetic energy this is a magnificent, mesmerizing movie.
-- Bill Gibron

The Sisters (Media Blasters)
Are you sick and tired of the same old Ring-like fright fest and Grudge-oriented macabre? Then why not give The Sisters a try. Media Blasters brings this Korean title to DVD with all of its "based on a true story" hyperbole intact. As a rock band faces a vengeful spirit with slaughter on its mind, The Sisters plays like a highlight reel of Asian horror, super sized and revved up for maximum fear fuel power. Though it employs a standard kids vs. creepers ideal, it manages to make the redundancy work for, not against it. Besides, director Thiwa Meyathaisong, in only his second film, finds the proper balance between invention and cribbing, stealing from Italian genre workouts, Tarantino-esque experiments in exposition, and an overall sense of being both literal and loony with the slasher-style conceits of the genre.
-- Bill Gibron

Snake of June (Tartan Asian Extreme) Moving from hideous mutations to startling sci-fi erotica, Tetsuo director Shinya Tsukamoto's Snake of June is the most perplexing lover's triangles ever attempted on film. Frigid suicide hotline operator Rinko (the incredibly sexy Asuka Kurosawa) is blackmailed by an unknown photographer. In order to keep the scandalous prints from her fastidious, equally asexual husband, Rinko agrees to do the cameraman's crazed carnal bidding. Realized in glamour fit montages, rain-slicked sessions of masturbation, and stunning symbolism, Tsukamoto draws out our hindered heroine's inner desires (and, indirectly, her husband). Add in an odd sequence that looks like a German Expressionists peep show cum snuff parlor and one of the most sensual strip teases ever to cross the silver screen (all captured beautifully on Tartan's blue-hued monochrome transfer) and you'e got another compelling, complicated masterwork from one of Japan's true visionary filmmakers.
-- Bill Gibron

A Tale of Two Sisters (Tartan Asian Extreme)
Based on a Snow White-like Korean folk tale, this compelling cinematic puzzle box is stylish and subversive. Offering more twists and turns than a labyrinth and full of evocatively beautiful visuals, there is a definite undertone of unease and dysfunction in Kim Jee-Woon's film. When two sisters return home after a stay in the "hospital", they find their "wicked" stepmother has completely taken over the household. Eventually, unseen spirits start making unwelcome appearances and visitors to the house are seeing dead children under the furnishings. So, is stepmother really a monster? Or is it the spirit of her birth parent seeking revenge? Or something else entirely? Loaded with extras in a comprehensive two DVD package, part of the fun in A Tale of Two Sisters is discovering for yourself just what is going on.
-- Bill Gibron

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tartan Asian Extreme)
In this legendary benchmark of Japanese geek cinema, Testuo announced the weird and whacked out talent of its eccentric director Shinya Tsukamoto, it also single handedly visualized the whole cyberpunk movement. This allegory about man, machines and the march of time is horrifying, revolting, highly disturbing and incredibly thought provoking. Like a manga version of Eraserhead, this monochrome nightmare (given an Anniversary revamp for DVD) explores the connection between pain and pleasure, fetishism and a freak show. Viewed in light of today's umbilical-like ties to technology, Tsukamoto's story about a man "infected" with a metal perversion, only to grow into a kind of half-human/half scrap heap creature of untold appetites (sexual AND electrical), seems incredibly prescient, especially in the dehumanized, micromanaged modernity in which we find ourselves trapped today.
-- Bill Gibron

Whispering Corridors (Tartan Asian Extreme)
Constantly in the shadows of their Tokyo-based brethren, Korea usually gets short shrift from those who believe the best supernatural scarefests originate in Japan. But director Ki-Hyung Park has a few tricks up his sleeve, ideas that make Whispering Corridors more than a haunted school story. This is the rare exercise in terror that works as both dread filled frightmare, and glaring denouncement of the country's abusive educational system. When a student dies accidentally, her "spirit" beings roaming the halls of a pressure filled all-girls school. Soon, teachers are dying. When an ex-student/now instructor discovers that it may be the work of her long dead friend, she begins to research the events that unfolded years before. With obvious nods to Dario Argento (plus a beautiful DVD transfer) Whispering Corridors marks a belated benchmark in Korea's claims to the creepshow.
-- Bill Gibron

Wishing Stairs (Tartan Asian Extreme)
As the third film in the Ghost School series, Wishing Stairs has a stellar premise. An art academy has a set of enchanted stairs just off the main campus. The 28 stones that make up the flight are supposedly haunted. If a student makes a wish, and climbs the steps while counting aloud, they will land on a magical 29th step. Then the wish comes true. Two ballerinas are in competition for a coveted referral. But neither is quite prepared for the horrifying consequences that come from relying on the mystical, not hard work, to achieve one's aims. While director Jae-yeon Yun tries to do too much (the inflated 100 minute running time proves this), there is still an inventive, almost mystical feel to this film. The DVD release boasts a gorgeous picture and a wealth of bonus material.
-- Bill Gibron

THE BEST STEPHEN CHOW TITLES ON DVD

All for the Winner (Tai Seng Entertainment)
As a parodist, Chow has never been afraid to take playful jabs at the Hong Kong movie elite. But in 1990 his All for the Winner not only dared mock the revered Chow Yun-Fat and his mega-successful God of Gamblers series (so popular they started their own genre), but solidified Chow's status as a major star. His first full-blown comedy, the film showcases his intact and fully formed style, and sets the stage for everything that would follow. Chow plays Sing, a mainland rube whose X-ray vision is exploited by his street-smart uncle for gambling. Naturally Sing's amazing success in the casinos attracts the interests of underworld types and mayhem breaks out as he makes a run to win the world championship of gambling purposes. Directed by frequent Chow collaborator Jeff Lau, All for the Winner would ironically make more money than the film it was mocking.
-- Stephen Kelly

A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora's Box
A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella
(Tai Seng Entertainment)
Technically two films, A Chinese Odyssey and its sequel need to be studied as one to truly appreciate the scope of director Jeff Lau's sumptuously realized period fantasy. In a role he was born to play, Chow is cast as Joker, a petty thief who just may be the reincarnated Monkey King of ancient Chinese lore � which wouldn't be so bad if he weren't being hunted by two shape-shifting she-devils hell bent on eating his flesh to gain immortality. Chow's formidable comic skills are in full gear as Joker runs into giant spiders, a monk who turns into grapes, and bloodthirsty zombies. All this occurs as his character searches for the Longevity Monk, the only person, dead or alive, who can save him. Filmed pre-CGI, the film was justly hailed as a marvel of special effects, high production values, and complex wire-fu action and is considered a classic in the Hong Kong period genre.
-- Stephen Kelly

The God of Cookery (Tai Seng Entertainment)
True to his moy len tau roots, Chow takes great delight in mocking popular Hong Kong films and pop culture trends. Parody is a theme he revisits often in his films and the raucous God of Cookery is no exception. Here he takes aim at Iron Chef and the popular 1995 Tsui Hark film The Chinese Feast and cooks up the tale of disgraced chef who claws his way back to the top after inventing a snack called "Exploding Pissing Beef Balls". In many ways The God of Cookery is the first complete Stephen Chow film, toning down the frenetic antics of his earlier work in favor of the more accessible mix of broad physical humor. It is something he would perfect in Kung-Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer. As usual, much kung fu ensues and a climatic cooking showdown in a mainland Shaolin temple is pre-CGI wire-fu in the best Shaw Brothers tradition.
-- Stephen Kelly

Kung Fu Hustle (Sony/ Columbia Tri-Star)
Everything Chow had learned in his 20 years of filmmaking finally came together with the raucous Kung Fu Hustle. He throws everything into this wildly imaginative comedy, from dancing tuxedoed gangsters, a landlady whose scream can shatter brick, and a chase scene right out of a Road Runner short. Chow plays Sing, a loud-mouthed gangster wannabe who discovers that he is a kung fu master while in defense of a 1940s Canton slum called Pig Sty Alley. Paced like a cartoon, director Chow never lets thing get out of control. Indeed Hustle is his most focused film. Of course, the movie is highlighted by furious kung fu battles (choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger fame). While Chow gives his usual reliable performance, Hong Kong actress Qiu Yuen steals the show as the landlady who rules with an iron hand and a very loud voice.
-- Stephen Kelly

Shaolin Soccer (Miramax)
As a filmmaker Stephen Chow has demonstrated an uncanny ability to take two distinctly unrelated subjects and make them mesh seamlessly onscreen. In the hugely successful Shaolin Soccer he strikes the perfect balance between kung fu and the world's oldest sport. The result is a marvelously energetic, supremely silly comedy and his most ambitious film to date. Here director Chow takes full advantage of CGI technology and creates eye-popping special effects � like a flying soccer ball morphing into a flaming tiger � that never overwhelm the story (an ex-Shaolin monk who brings his love of kung fu to the masses through soccer). The first of his films to hit big with an international audience, Shaolin Soccer is the logical progression of a filmmaker honing his complex style into something very accessible.
-- Stephen Kelly

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